Uncoerced Sex

Uncoerced Sex

CW: sexual assault, Aziz Ansari analysis

 

 

 

The goal of sex is not to “convince” your partner to have sex with you. The goal of sex is not to “get away” with something

 

 

 

Over the weekend, a woman shared her story about being sexually assaulted by Aziz Ansari. I do say sexually assaulted – she consented to some kinds of sexual contact, but not others. He repeatedly tried to initiate contact she didn’t consent to, moving his body and hers to try and get her to have intercourse with him, which she repeatedly indicated she didn’t want to have. He did not ask “do you want to touch me here?” or “can I press myself against you?” – he took permission for granted, and in fact, ignored the ways that she tried to get out of the situation. She tried to distract him, move away from him, decline, move his hands, move her hands, appease part of what he wanted, etc. He continued to assume that their shared goal was intercourse, despite no evidence to support that.

 

Honestly, I can’t be horrified any more when I see an accusation against any male celebrity. I just expect it. I have a resigned expectation that every famous man has consent violations in his past. What I’m horrified by is the public response. Tweets I have read* include:

 

-“well, she went down on him, of course she wanted to touch him.”
-“I’ve felt the pain of being raped – you say no and you fight back. If she didn’t want him, she should have fought him.”

– “She specifically says that she never told him no. If you don’t like what’s happening, you have to say no. You HAVE to say no. Ladies, this makes you look weak.”

-“Women, this isn’t assault. Rape is when you try and fight back, you try and leave, you say no, and the man still forces himself on you.”

-“…[these] are the exact reasons women fight when they are really threatened. It’s called survival instinct…”

-“I wouldn’t call giving someone oral sex “shutting down” and “not responding”. This story… completely hurts the movement.”

-“It sounds like it was bad sex, not unconsensual sex. Just because it was bad doesn’t mean he assaulted her.”

 

One of the reasons that we so frequently see assault like this is because men are looking for different kinds of “no” signals than they are getting. They grow up hearing that they’ll just “know” when a woman wants to have sex. It’ll “feel right” or “she’ll let you know.” They’re also (sometimes) told to respect only a clear and unambiguous “no”. They’re told (like in the above tweets) that women will fight and yell “rape!” if they don’t want the sex they are having. So these men think they’re good men, and assume that they could never hurt someone. Aziz Ansari is outspoken and supportive of the #TimesUp movement. So when someone who assumes he is a good, respectful, peaceful man has sex that he enjoyed, he assumes that it was consensual. But we all know that not hearing a “no” is different than hearing a yes, right?

 

The other half of this equation is that men are taught that women are these mysterious creatures, unknowable and irrational. There’s no way to find out what they’re thinking. Women, so confusing, amirite? So how on earth could any man know if a woman wants sex? We read magazine articles giving tips on giving and reading “signals” about when sex is on the table – what are some of the ways that women display sexual desire? Is it eye contact? Is it coyness? Is she playing hard to get? Like those tweets say, she’d TELL you if she didn’t want it, using her words and her fists and her anger. She’d shout, right? She’d yell?

 

Here’s a tip: the goal of sex is not to “convince” your partner to have sex with you. The goal of sex is not to get away with something. To feel as if you have succeeded against adversity. To find a way to get off that the other person doesn’t refuse you. To have an orgasm in spite of someone else’s preferences. If you have to convince, coerce, badger, bug, plead, or whine in order to have sex with someone, they don’t want to have sex with you. If you have your hand moved away from part of someone’s body, they don’t want your hand there. If you have to follow someone to touch them, they didn’t want you to touch them**. If your partner wants to have sex with you – THEY WILL LET YOU KNOW.

 

Remember that post last week about enthusiastic consent? Enthusiasm is a GREAT way to know that your partner really, really wants to have sex with you! You know what else works? Explicit consent! Being told in extremely clear and unambiguous terms, “yes, you may take off my clothes” or “yes, you may go down on me.”

 

There are a LOT of reasons why someone might not give a clear “no” when they don’t want to have sex:

-They’re experiencing a trauma flashback.

-They’re unsure, and haven’t thought it through.

-They can’t think of a good reason to not have sex.

-They’re afraid of social fallout.

-They are afraid of a violent response***.

-They know that, if they say “no” and it isn’t respected, they can’t keep pretending that what is happening is okay. They have to accept that they are being assaulted. They can tell themselves that it’s just “bad sex” and they aren’t currently having their consent violated.

-They’re freezing, a common, uncontrollable and automatic trauma and panic response.

-They’ve had a negative reaction from a partner in the past, when they’ve tried to say “no.”

-They’re drugged, drunk, or otherwise unable to indicate a lack of consent.

-They don’t understand what is happening.

 

This news story is EXACTLY the reason why I insist on enthusiastic consent with new partners. Why I teach my students and clients to use enthusiastic consent to tell if a new sex partner wants to have sex. Remember: enthusiastic consent is a shortcut for clear knowledge that your sex partner wants to be interacting with you.

 

The goal of sex is not to “convince” your partner to have sex with you. The goal of sex is not to “get away” with something

 

 


 

* All of these tweets, and hundreds more that I couldn’t stop myself from reading, were written and posted by women. Women whose Twitter profiles indicated to me that they considered themselves feminists, and pro-woman. I don’t really know what to do with that information, emotionally – I’m still processing it, myself.

 

**I am obviously not talking about pre-negotiated non-consent

 

*** If you want to be very upset, look up news stories about women who were murdered after turning down men. Set aside some time, it’ll take you a while to get through all of them.

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